Category Archives: Hugh Patterson

The Game Gangster Style

We’re going to take a break from tactics to look at one of the many places I teach chess but will return to our tactical studies next week. Teaching chess to children is only part of my chess teaching career. I teach teenagers, adults, coach chess teams and teach chess to extremely hardened criminals, both young and old. Many of my incarcerated students are members of violent street gangs. I put my personal feeling about people who commit crimes aside when I teach the game of chess to these men. My job is not to pass moral judgment on these students but to teach them how to make better life decisions through chess. Imagine being in a room with four to six men, some of whom have committed acts of terrible violence, with the guards standing outside the classroom, close but not close enough to save my life if need be. Surprisingly, I am comfortable there because these men know I’m there for them, working pro bono as their lawyers would say. I don’t charge for my services when working in the jails. I work without pay because if I can get just one of these men to make better life decisions and not end up back in jail, I’ve succeeded and that’s reward enough! When I explain the game of chess, I do so in their terms, terms they can relate too. They don’t need another smart guy in a suit and tie using large words that they don’t understand. They need to hear it in the language of the streets, gang-speak. Here’s how I explain the game of chess:

“The streets are owned by those who take them. Gangs own the streets and the more streets you own, the more power you have. When one gang wants to increase its power they take control of streets belonging to another gang. Of course, the gang losing their hard fought for streets are not going to give them up without a fight. The gang trying to expand their territory sometimes decide to take out the other gang’s leader, their King. Chess is about taking out the other gang’s King, plain and simple. However, you have to play it smart because you only have so many soldiers in your army. Lose those soldiers and you’ve got no one to fight for you and worse yet, no one to protect you. While you might think yourself strong and tough, one man can’t hold back an army.”

When I introduce each player’s army, I do so using street hierarchy, the pecking order within the chain of command. I also introduce them to the word hierarchy, pointing out that you get a lot farther in life when you sound smart because in the end words hold more power than fists. Here’s my introduction of each player’s army:

“In the game of chess, both players start with an equal number of gang members. In other words, you start the fight with the same number of soldiers and firepower. This means you both enter the war with no real advantage.” At this point, someone will yell out “well then, how the #%$# am I going to win?” This is a great question since most of these guys win street wars by going into the fight with a superior force or firepower. It brings up an important point: All things being equal, you win by being smart, knowing where and when to fight your battles, not just jumping in with all guns blazing. We talk about a few historical battles in which the side that one was greatly outnumbered. How did they do it, my students want to know. They become engaged very quickly, often thinking they can use this information on the hard and unforgiving streets. I make a point to remind them that our goal, via chess, is to make better life decisions or life choices and it was bad decision making that landed them behind bars. Now we meet the gang:

“You are the Kingpin and with that title comes power and respect. However, being the Kingpin also means that other Kingpins are out to get you any chance they have. You’re worth more dead than alive to your enemies. This means you have to have protection for if the King falls, so does his empire. On the flip-side, you’re trying to topple your sworn enemy’s empire so your gang needs to divide it’s activities between protecting you and taking down your rival Kingpin! You life as Kingpin is one of constant offense and defense, always carefully balancing the two.”

We then meet the gang or army, starting with the Corner Boys. “The Corner Boy is a loyal soldier who dreams of being the Kingpin’s top lieutenant on day. It’s an entry level position which means he has to do all the dirty work, such as being the first into battle. In chess, we call this soldier the pawn. The pawn is first into the fight and, if he can reach the other side of the board, he is promoted. He’s no coward which is why he can only move forward. However, don’t think that just because you have eight pawns at the games start you can carelessly throw you foot soldiers, the pawns, into the meat grinder of battle. You’re going to need these troops until the bitter end. Those Kingpins who keep more Corner Boys around when the battle winds down will stand a better chance of winning. Remember, every pawn that can cross the board and reach it’s end can promote to the deadliest of assassins, the Queen. We’ll get to her later.”

We talk about a bit about war and how armies work together to win the battle. It’s important to understand that you have to use your army in a coordinated fashion.

“Next we meet the up and comers who are a few rungs up the chain of command ladder. These soldiers, the Knights and Bishops, have their own individual fighting skills and follow closely behind the Corner Boys or pawns. They don’t stand around waiting for the fight to come to them. They get into the fight early on during the opening but pick where they fight very carefully. Their power is strongest when they’re in the thick of the fight, the middle of the board. Bishops are soldiers armed with a sniper rifle, meaning they can attack and do great damage from long distances. When you can’t get a clear shot with your snipers, you bring in the Knights who, because of their ability to jump over other pieces and pawns, can drop into an attack like a special forces soldier parachutes into battle behind enemy lines. We call this special group, the minor pieces and like the army’s special forces, you have a limited number of these highly trained fighters. Use them wisely because they rule the beginning of any fight on the chessboard. Now we’ll look at the game’s big guns, the major pieces the Rooks and the Queen.”

I usually give a pop quiz regarding the pawn, Bishops and Knights as well as the chessboard itself. You’d be surprised at how well my students retain the information I’ve presented them thus far. Their strong retention might come as a surprise though. Most of these students, no matter how bad their criminal activities have been, are not stupid and when you present the game in terms of the street, they get it. I continue:

“Rooks are seasoned warriors. They’ve survived as long as they have because they know just when to come into the fight. They know better than to jump into the fight as soon as it starts. They let the youngsters, the pawns, Knights and Bishops, tear into the enemy and wear them down. The Rooks are like powerful cannons that mow down everything in a straight line. They can blast across the ranks and files of the board so standing in their way can be a deadly affair. They like to have a clear shot, especially at the enemy King so give them a clear line of sight. Remember though, you have to bring your army into battle carefully. The pawns start things off, followed by the Knights and Bishops. Once this part of your army gains control of the board’s center, then you can bring the heavy hitters into the mix. However, you don’t want to throw your Rooks directly into the fight but instead, use them for holding down lines of attack, the ranks and files.”

I introduce the Queen next. In the male dominated culture of gangs, woman are not considered to be equals. However, as I explain, “ The Queen is the deadliest of killers, combining the powers of the Bishop and Rook. She’s the toughest member of the gang. She can destroy all who walk across her path. Yet as powerful as she is, you must take care with her not because she’s a lady but because as dangerous as she is, she will be mercilessly hunted down if she enters the fight too soon. Her power is so strong that she can make a threat and the enemy will stand up and take notice. The queen is often the assassin that goes after the enemy King. However, she often only gets one chance so use her powers wisely.”

That is how I get tough guys interesting in chess. The game not only helps them with making better life decisions but I’ve seen rival gang members form friendships through the game. Speaking of games, here’s one to enjoy until next week when we resume our tactical studies. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Five

This week, we’re going to look at pins involving the Rook and Queen as well as go over some key concepts regarding this tactical tool. We’ll start with a review of a few key concepts. Why review what we already know? Let me tell you a little story about my past. I’ve always had a love affair with motorcycles, owning my first bike at the age of seventeen. When you’re seventeen, just coming up with the money to buy a motorcycle is a gargantuan task for a lazy teenager. I ended up buying the most broken down three stroke Cafe Racer because it was all I could afford. When something went wrong, which was nearly daily, I was at the mercy of the neighborhood mechanic who charged a lot for repair work. Fortunately, he took pity on me and decided to teach me how to fix the bike myself. He taught me motorcycle repair one tool at a time.

My mechanic mentor, upon asking him why I had to learn how to use one tool at a time, patiently explained that you must master one tool before moving on to the next because each tool was used for a specific circumstance and the tools were interrelated, being used together, harmoniously in order to accomplish a specific task. He also stated that, when learning to use each tool, a quick review of that tool’s use greatly helped when mastering it. This idea stuck with me throughout my life and became a cornerstone in my own teaching methods Therefore, we’ll start with a review of the pin.

As stated in the previous article, a pin occurs when a piece (the piece doing the pinning) attacks a piece (the pinned piece) that sits on a rank, file or diagonal in front of a more valuable piece. Thus, a pin takes place when one piece is attacked and should that attacked piece move, a piece of greater value will be captured. With relative pins, the piece being pinned can move at the cost of the more valuable piece behind it. In an absolute pin, the pinned piece cannot move because the piece behind it is the King. Take a look at the diagram below:

In this example, it’s Black to move. Black sees that the White Bishop on f4 is hanging (unprotected). Of course, we never capture pawns and pieces unless it helps our position. Here, capturing the White Bishop does help Black’s position. How does it help? By playing (Black to move) 1…Bxf4, White’s Rook on d2 is now pinned to the White King on c1. This is an absolute pin which means that the piece being pinned cannot move because doing so would expose the King to capture. Since you cannot capture the King in chess, you cannot move the pinned piece! The Rook, in the above example, is also attacked by the Black Queen on d8. Two attackers and one defender spells trouble for White. Even if White plays 2. Nf3, adding a second defender of the Rook on d2, it wouldn’t matter because Black would happily trade his Bishop for White’s Rook. This simple example serves to make a few key points you should always keep in mind regarding pins and tactics in general:

The first point to remember is that tactics in which one of the pieces involved is the King tend to have more dire results for the victim of the tactical play. The reason for this is because the tactic in question, a fork for example, includes a check, forcing the King to move at the expense of the other piece. In the case of a pin, the pinned piece is literally super glued to it’s square because it cannot move. This brings up another point, putting pressure on the pinned piece. In the above example, The Black Queen was attacking the White Rook on d2. However, if the Black Queen was on the a8 square instead of d8, we would move her to d8 after the Black Bishop pinned the White Rook with 1…Bxf4. When given the opportunity, and if it doesn’t damage your position, pile up on pinned pieces. While White can add another defender to the poor Rook on d2, the difference in value between the pinned piece and the piece doing the pinning means that Black will win material and this brings up the next point, always consider the value of the piece doing the pinning and the pinned piece. In the above example, the pinned Rook is worth five points and the Bishop doing the pinning is worth three points. Try to use pieces of lesser value to do the pinning. However, there’s another reason for pinning pieces that doesn’t involve gaining material via an exchange. Pins, especially absolute pins, can stop the pinned piece from becoming involved in the game! In the above example, the White Rook on d2 would love nothing more that capture the White Queen on d8. However, even though the Black Queen is there for the capture, White cannot do a thing about it because the White Rook is absolutely pinned to it’s King by the Black Bishop on f4. Now that we’ve reviewed a few key pinning concepts, let’s move on to Rook and Queen pins. Before we start, remember, you have to keep a constant and watchful eye over all ranks, files and diagonals because these are the places where pins occur.

We’ll start by looking at Rook pins. The Rook is a major piece, along with the Queen. Because the Rook has a relative value of five points, you have to be cautious when using a Rook for pinning purposes. The reason for being cautious has to do with the Rook’s value. If a Rook is pinning a protected minor piece, worth three points, to a more valuable piece, such as the Queen, you’re simply keeping the pinned piece from participating in the game because should the minor piece move, the Rook captures the more valuable piece. If we reverse things, having a minor piece such as a Bishop pinning a Rook to a Queen or King, the minor pieces could trade itself for the pinned Rook, coming out ahead in the exchange of material. However, in the case of Rook pinning a Bishop that’s protected, an exchange wouldn’t be favorable. Therefore, you’d be pinning the minor piece to keep it out of action. However, a Rook can be extremely valuable, exchange-wise, if the pinned piece is the Queen. Take a look at the example below:

In this student game example, the game starts out 1. e4…d5. After 2. exd5, Black decides to develop the King-side Knight with 2…Nf6. This seems reasonable since Black develops a minor piece, bringing him one step closer to Castling King-side, and attacks the White pawn. White plays 3. d6 and now Black makes his first mistake, capturing away from the center with 3…exd6. The reason this move is problematic is because it leaves the Black King exposed on the e file. Try to capture towards the center when given the opportunity. Of course, in the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez, when White trades the Bishop on b5 for the Knight on c6, Bxc6, we capture away from the center with dxc6 which opens up a diagonal for Black’s light squared Bishop and gives the Black Queen some breathing room. White now naturally develops a Knight with 4. Nf3 and Black wastes time with 4…c5. I say “wastes time” because you want to get your minor pieces into the game and get your King off of the exposed e file, meaning the development of the King-side minor pieces (King-side Castling). White plays 5. Bc4 and Black develops his Queen-side Knight with 5…Nc6. White Castles with 6. 0-0 and Black makes the worst move, 6…Qe7. Anytime you place your Queen in front of your King on an open file, you’re asking for serious trouble. The young man playing the White pieces takes advantage of this and plays 7. Re1, pinning the Black Queen to its King. Now, Black is stuck having to block this pin with either 7…Ne5 or 7…Be6. Either way, Black is going to end up with a pinned minor piece which may soon fall to additional material moving in to attack the now pinned piece. In this example, pinning the Black Queen to her King has created a dreadful situation that will cost Black material and at the least leave him with a terrible position.

Pins in which the Queen is doing the pinning can be extremely dangerous for the player employing the pin because you’re using your most powerful and valuable attacking piece to do the pinning. Because the Queen is worth more in relative value than the individual pawns and pieces, you’re not going to make a profit, material-wise, in trading your Queen for any of your opponent’s material. Therefore, Queen pins tend to be employed to keep the pinned piece out of play, at least temporarily. However, if you add the right second attacker to the pinned piece, things change. Let’s have a look:

Here, the White Queen is pinning the Rook on f7 to the King, which is an absolute pin. The Queen is worth more than the pinned piece so a second attacker is needed to make the pin profitable. White plays, 1. Ng5 and no matter what Black does, the Knight will capture the Rook on White’s next turn.

When pinning with pieces of higher value, you need to think things through, very carefully. Adding pressure via additional attackers (attacking the pinned piece) is a good way to ensure a positive result. Rooks love open and semi open files, especially when there’s an opposition King at the other end of the file. Queens can certainly pin pieces but don’t look for a quick win of material unless you add pieces of lesser value into the mix, using them to put pressure on the pinned piece. Remember, once the Queen comes out into the game, especially early on, she becomes a target for the opposition. Next week we’ll look the the skewer which is similar to the pin. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

The Important of Tactics Four

The pin, at least as far as chess is concerned, is mightier than the sword! In the last three articles, we looked at a tactic called the fork. Like the fork, a pin requires that the tactician (you) keep an eye out for pieces that lie on ranks, files and/or diagonals. Unlike the fork, a tactic all of your pawns and pieces can engage in (from pawn to King), pins require the use of your long distance pieces, the Bishop, Rook or Queen. A pin takes place when one piece is attacked and should that attacked piece move, a piece of greater value will be captured. The pieces involved in a pin must lie on a rank, file or diagonal, thus the employment of a Bishop, Rook or Queen. There are two types of pins, the absolute pin and the relative pin. In an absolute pin, the piece behind the piece being attacked is the King which means the piece being attacked cannot move. With a relative pin, the piece being attacked can move but if it does the piece behind it, which is of greater value than the attacked piece, will be captured. Therefore, Absolute pins hold greater weight since the pinned piece is literally glued to the square it’s on due to blocking an attack on the King in question. There are three pieces involved in any pin, the piece doing the pinning (Bishop, Rook or Queen), the piece being pinned (Knight, Bishop, Rook or Queen) and lastly the piece of greater value that sits behind the pinned piece (with at least one empty square between it and the pinned piece. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, we have a relative pin. It’s important to note that a relative pin can be ignored at the loss of the more valuable material behind the pinned piece. However, pins, as we shall see, are not always rock solid! The game starts off with both players advancing their e pawns with 1. e4…e5. White develops the King-side Knight with tempo, attacking the e5 pawn while Black defends it, 2.Nf3…Nc6. White moves the King-side Bishop to c4, with 3. Bc4, denoting (possibly) the Italian Opening. Black plays 3…d6, which adds a second defender to the e5 pawn and allows the Black Queen-side Bishop to develop. When Black made this last move, White should be able to clearly anticipate that the newly freed Bishop on c8 will come down to g4, pinning the f3 Knight to the White Queen on d1. White continues development with 4. Nc3. Now Black plays 4…Bg4 activating the pin. How effective is this pin? As we shall see shortly, it doesn’t deter White at all. In fact White plays 5. Nxe5, acting as if the pin is non-existent!

It should be noted that White had two alternatives to 5. Nxe5. White could have blocked the pin with 5. Be2, allowing the Knight on f3 to move without consequence to the Queen. White could also have pushed the h pawn with 5. h3, nudging the Black Bishop away or forcing a trade. However, a trade of Bishop for Knight would have caused the White Queen to capture back which would have had the Queen and c4 Bishop aimed at the weak f7 square. In the case of an exchange, we wouldn’t capture back with the g2 pawn because that would leave doubled pawns and a hole in White’s King-side pawn structure should White castle King-side. However, White ignored the pin altogether leaving Black with the opportunity to capture the White Queen.

Any good chess player commanding the Black army would first look closely at the position, especially the placement of the Knight on e5, the Bishop on c4 and the White Knight on c3. They’d immediately avoid the Queen capture and quickly defend the f7 square. However, our greedy player took the White Queen with 5…Bxd1. Now it’s too late. White first checks the Black King with 6. Bxf7+. The Black King is forced to e7 with 6…Ke7 and White delivers the final blow with 7. Nd5#, checkmate!

I used this example because it teaches us an important lesson regarding pins and that lesson is that a pins are not always as strong as they seem. While Black won the White Queen, White won the game and you don’t win by having more material than your opponent! However, the idea behind this pin was to keep the Knight on f3 from participating in the game. If White didn’t have the opportunity to deliver checkmate, the Knight would have been stuck on f3 as long as the Black Bishop remained on g4 and the White Queen on d1. Pins are employed to keep opposition pieces from participating in the game. In our next example, we’ll see an absolute pin, one in which the King is behind the pinned piece, in this case the Queen.

It’s extremely dangerous to have your Queen directly in front of the King on either a rank, file or diagonal. In the above example, the Black Queen (f7) is in front of the Black King (e8) on the h5-e8 diagonal. White takes advantage of this mistake by playing 1. Bh5 pinning the Queen to the King. It’s important to note that this pin only works because the Bishop is protected by the White Queen on d1. Because the King is behind the Black Queen, her majesty cannot move out of the line of fire. She has no choice but to capture the attacking Bishop with 1…Qxh5 or moving the King, losing the Queen either way. Now White plays 2. Qxh5+, winning Queen for Bishop and attacking the poor Black King. The key factors that made this pin successful were first, it was an absolute pin. When a King is behind a pinned piece, as is this case, the pinned piece cannot move out of danger. The second factor regarding this successful pin was the protection of the White Bishop by the White Queen. If the Bishop wasn’t protected, it would simply be captured by the Black Queen free of charge. Because the White Queen guarded the Bishop, the pin was successful.

The key to all pins is looking for a rank, file or diagonal occupied by two opposition pieces, one being more valuable than the other. It’s important to remember that if the piece being pinned can attack the piece doing the pinning, the piece doing the pinning needs protection. In our example involving the Black Queen and King, the value of the pinned piece was greater than the value of the piece doing the pinning, making it an extremely deadly tactical play. If we replaced the Black Queen with a Black Knight, the pin would have the effect of Keeping the Knight glued in place, unable to move because it was shielding the King from attack. While this would be useful because it would keep the pinned piece out of the game temporarily, it wouldn’t have the same effect as being able to win the opposition Queen.

If you have the chance, you should always add pressure to a pinned piece. What do I mean by this? Add another attacker to the pinned piece. Pile up attackers on the pinned piece to really put the thumbscrews to the opposition’s position. Pawns are great for this because if a piece is pinned and then attacked by a pawn, the piece is a goner!

We’ll go into more detail regarding pins in my next article and introduce Rooks and Queen into this tactical tool. Remember, potential pins are seen only to those who closely examine the ranks, files and diagonals continuously throughout the game. It’s the keen eye that finds them. I suggest you look at some random games in any chess books or databases you have and see if you can spot potential pins. If you see a potential pin and it doesn’t get played in actual the game you’re looking over, see if you can determine why. This will teach you both how to spot potential pins and also how to determine whether they’ll work. Happy hunting. Here’s a game to enjoy until then.

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Three

Tactics can quickly decide the games of beginning and intermediate players, so knowing how and when to employ them is crucial if you wish to improve your game. Of course, tactics are not a guaranteed way to win but they can change the material balance in your favor and thus make it easier to win due to having a larger army than your opponent. We looked at pawn and minor piece (Knight and Bishop) forks in the last two articles. Now we’re going to look at major piece (Rook and Queen) forks. There is a difference between pawn, Knight and Bishop forks versus Rook and Queen forks. That difference has to do with the value of the material doing the forking. Pawns, for example, are great at forking because they have the lowest relative value. When a pawn forks two pieces, you automatically end up with a material gain. Knights and Bishops, when forking major pieces, (Rooks and Queens) also lead to a material gain. However, when you’re using a Rook or Queen to fork, you have to be careful because of their high relative value. If you have a Rook forking two minor pieces, and those minor pieces are protected by pawns or other minor pieces, then you’re apt to lose material should you follow through with the fork and capture one of those minor pieces!

We’ll start by looking at Rook forks. Rooks have the ability to move along the ranks and files. Unlike the Bishop who can only control diagonals of one color, the Rook can cover both black and white squares simultaneously. Because a Rook is worth more than a minor piece or pawn, your target pieces when using a Rook to fork should be a piece of higher value, such as The King or Queen and an unprotected piece of lower value, such as a Knight or Bishop. Why not a piece of equal value? Well, a piece of equal value would be another Rook and you can’t fork another Rook because that other Rook would simply capture your Rook! As with all forks, the set up is critical to your success. Take a look at the example below:

This is an extremely simplified example but it demonstrates what I just mentioned above regarding the idea of forking a piece of greater value than the Rook and a piece of lesser value. In our example, the White Rook moves to d6 (1. Rd6+) where it checks the Black King on h6 while also attacking the Bishop on a6. The King moves (1…Kg5) and the Rook captures the Bishop with 2. Rxa6. Nice and easy. However, if Black had a Knight on b8, this fork wouldn’t work because the Knight would protect the Black Bishop and following through with the exchange would leave you trading a five point Rook for a three point Bishop. Forks work when the piece being captured after the other piece has moved isn’t protected. However, what if we substitute A Black Queen for the Black Bishop and the White Rook we’re using to fork King and Queen has a bodyguard? Take a look at the example below:

Here, the Rook moves to the forking square, d6 (1. Rd6+). Since it’s checking the Black King, Black has the choice of moving the King and losing the Queen (and the game) or Capturing the Rook. Black opts to capture with 1…Qxd6. Now we see why the Rook needed a bodyguard. Remember, the Queen moves like both a Rook and Bishop, so forking a Queen with either of these two pieces requires a bodyguard for the forking piece. White plays 2. Bxd6, winning the Queen at the cost of a Rook. The net gain of this tactic is four points of material, trading Rook for Queen. With major piece forks, you often need a bodyguard to assist the forking piece to ensure a gain of material. Thus, the more valuable the piece doing the forking the more carefully you must set up your fork. There is one place where Rooks can can be highly effective against lower valued material, namely the pawns!

Rooks love to reek havoc on the seventh and second ranks, especially when the initial pawn structure (pawns on their starting squares) is somewhat intact. Let’s take a look:

White plays 1. Rd7, forking the Black pawns on c7 and e7. Black can only protect one of those pawns which means White captures the other one free of charge. After 1…Rfe8, White plays 2. Rxc7 winning a pawn. Black blunders with 2…Rac8, attacking the White Rook, thinking White will trade Rooks. However, the White Rooks says “time to take another pawn” and plays 3. Rxb7. Black decides to cover his a7 pawn with 3…Ra8 and the White Rook runs away after creating a three to one Queen-side pawn majority for White with 4. Rb3. This actual tragedy was from a student game in one of my beginner’s classes. White went on to win after being able to promote a Queen-side pawn. Of course, we can thank the Rook for creating the pawn majority!

The above example shows how powerful the Rook can be when it comes to rounding up pawns. However, you must be careful when going on a pawn hunt with one of your Rooks because of the Rook’s value. Hunting pawns with Rooks and Queens can be hazardous to your position’s health. It’s better not to hunt pawns in the first place because you have greater tasks to be tackled, such as winning the game by creating strong positions! Now we’ll look at some Queen forks.

Since the Queen is the most valuable piece aside from the King, you have to be extremely careful when using her, especially when it comes to forks. If you miscalculate your tactical assault, you may become the victim rather than the other way around. When forking with the Queen, it’s best for the beginner to only consider forks that involve the opposition King as one of the forked pieces. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, Black is threatening to capture the a2 pawn. White could simply move the Queen to b1 or c2 to defend it. However, wouldn’t it be better to win the Rook outright? White can further improve upon his material advantage by employing a fork. Using a Queen fork, White plays 1. Qb3+ which forks the Black King and the annoying Black Rook. After black blocks with 1…Rf7, White plays 2. Qxa2 equalizing the material balance. Of course, if the Black Knight was on b4, this fork wouldn’t work. You should always make sure the pieces you’re planning on capturing after employing the fork aren’t protected.

When using Rooks and Queens for forks, you have to take care because these are your major pieces, having the highest material value. Therefore, you need to make sure they can’t be recaptured after you execute the fork. As I mentioned in the previous two articles, the way to find potential forks is to look for pieces that share a rank, file or diagonal. Rooks fork on the ranks and files. Queens have an advantage in that they can fork on the ranks, files and diagonals. Their disadvantage is that they’re at the top of the relative value scale so if you lose your Queen due to a faulty tactical execution, you’re down a lot of material. Next week we’ll start our examination of pins, a deadly tactic you should know how use. Until then, here’s a great gambit game from the romantic era of the game we all love. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics Two

As promised, we’re going to continue our examination of tactics for the beginner. Last week, we looked at the power of the Knight fork. Because a Knight cannot be blocked when attacking, the opposition is left with one less choice (the other two being capturing or running/moving out of the attack) when dealing with the Knight. Also the Knight’s “L” shaped movement makes it difficult for the beginner to clearly see this piece’s target squares when compared to the linear movement of the other pieces. Now we’ll look at how the pawn and Bishop can be used in tactical forks to win material. Remember, everyone in your chess army can fork.

As I mentioned last week, forking opportunities rarely just present themselves when you play against an experienced opponent. You have to set them up with a combination of moves which is the hard part of learning how to become a tactician! Some of these combinations require a move or two while some may take three or more moves to set up. With forks involving pieces other than the Knight, the trick to setting up a tactical play is to look for lines (ranks, files or diagonals) on which opposition material sits. We’ll start by looking a a pawn fork. This example is a simple tactical trick employed by many savvy young players and requires setting the tactic up with a combination of moves:

So our game starts off with a typical e pawn opening, 1. e4…e5. No tricks here, just the simple application of opening principles, controlling the board’s center with a pawn. On move two, White attacks the e5 pawn with 2. Nf3 and Black properly defends with 2…Nc6. White plays the Italian Opening with 3. Bc4 and Black responds with 3…Nf6. Both players are employing sound opening moves that fight for the center of the board. White develops another minor piece with 4. Nc3. Now Black looks at the position and spots an opportunity for a fork. Obviously, there’s no immediate fork but, as I mentioned earlier, tactical plays more often than not, have to be set up. Black sees that by advancing the d pawn from d7 to d5, he’d be forking the Bishop on c4 and the e4 pawn. While the Black Queen protects the Black pawn, White’s pawn on e4 that would capture the Black pawn and that would be that. However, Black has an idea. What if there was a White Knight on e4 rather than a pawn? In this case, a Black pawn on d5 (protected by the Queen) would be forking both the c4 Bishop and the e4 Knight. This would be a worthwhile fork since White would lose one of his pieces. How does Black lure the Knight to e4? By temporarily sacrificing his own Knight with 4…Nxe4. White, being inexperienced thinks that Black has blundered by capturing the pawn and happily captures the Knight with 5. Nxe4. Black advances his d pawn, 5…d5, forking the Bishop and Knight, winning a pawn at the end of this tactical exchange!

Note that in the above example, the fork works because the pawn had a defender, the Black Queen, and it was attacking two pieces of greater value. Pawns are excellent at forking because of their low relative value in relationship to the pieces. It’s important to remember that forks are most effective when the unit forking is worth less than the material being forked (unless one of the forked pieces cannot be defended)!

Now let’s look at a Bishop fork. You’ll want to keep in mind that Bishop forks requires more thought when setting up. What do I mean by this? Any attack by a Knight cannot be blocked due to it’s ability to jump over other pieces. The Knight also has the ability to fork up to eight pieces at the same time (in theory as compared to actual positional practice). With the pawn, because of its having the lowest relative value, any pair of pieces (it can only fork two pieces at a time) being forked are at a disadvantage because those pieces are worth more than the pawn. With Bishops, Rooks and especially the Queen, you have additional details to address before forking with these pieces. We’ll look at Rook and Queen forks next week.

At the start of the game, you have two Bishops, one that travels along the light colored squares and one that travels along the dark colored squares. Because of this, a Bishop of one color (square) will only be able to fork pieces that sit on squares of that Bishop’s color. Thus, a dark squared Bishop can only attack or fork pieces on dark colored squares. Now we’re going to look at a series of forks in a single game, employing both Knight and Bishop working together, that leave the player of the White pieces in ruins just ten moves into the game. The key point here is that only a specific combination of coordinated pieces and a carefully thought out series of moves makes this devastating tactical play work. Let’s take a look:

The opening used in the above example is the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The Queen’s Gambit is a very solid opening played by many of the world’s top players. However, as we shall see, just because it’s played by top players with ensuing good results doesn’t mean that less experienced players will have successful results employing it. There are a few noteworthy ideas or concepts to consider regarding this example.

First off, we see two well timed Knight and Bishop forks, almost back to back, that have devastating results. Secondly, the minor pieces involved in this tactical slaughter work together, with one minor piece supporting the other. When you seriously study tactics, you’ll find that pieces work with one another in a balanced or harmonious way. One pawn or piece protects the forking piece, which allows that piece to execute the tactical play. Sometimes, a piece will be temporarily sacrificed in order to clear a line (rank, file or diagonal), allowing another piece to deliver the tactical play. Thus, in order to successfully employ a tactic, pawns and pieces must work together. Material harmony is the phrase of the day! Let’s get to our example.

The game starts with a d pawn opening which can lead to a semi-closed or closed game. In closed games, where pawns and pieces tend to render long distance attackers such as the Bishops, Rooks and Queen powerless due to a lack of open squares ( but not completely powerless), the Knights are often the stars of the show. However, in this game, Black uses a combination of a long distance attacker, in this case the Bishop, and the Knight who rules in closed positions harmoniously. After 1. d4…d5, White plays 2. c4, indicating The Queen’s Gambit. Now it’s up to Black to either accept or decline the gambit. When Black plays 2…Bf5, he states that he’s not accepting the gambit. The Black Bishop on f5 is following the opening principles, attacking a central square. White now plants the Queen-side Knight on it’s own active square with 3. Nc3 which attacks the Black d5 pawn. Black defends the pawn with 3…e6. White develops his King-side Knight with 4. Nf3, a principled opening move. Black develops his Queen-side Knight with 4…Nc6. White follows with 5. Qb3. It’s here that White’s game starts to weaken. While the White Queen is targeting the Black pawn on b7, is it a good idea to bring one’s Queen out early to attack a pawn that can easily be defended? In short, the answer is no. The Queen should never be used to hunt down pawns during the opening!

How does Black defend the seemingly hanging pawn? He doesn’t. Instead, Black plays 5…Nb4, literally depositing the Knight on the Queen’s head. The reason this works is because of piece coordination. The f8 Bishop protects the Knight so the Queen cannot capture the b4 Knight! White makes an essentially pointless check with 6. Qa4+. I say pointless because this move actually helps Black’s game, allowing Black to make a move he was already considering, 6…c6. Never makes moves that help your opponent!

White decides to attack Black’s pawn structure with 7. cxd5. Since the Black pawn on c6 is pinned to Black’s King by the White Queen, Black has to capture back with the e pawn, right? Absolutely not! Black instead plays the nasty fork, 7…Nc2+, attacking the White King and Queen-side Rook. Hold on because it gets worse! After White moves his King with 8. Kd1, Black responds with 8…Nxa1. What’s worse than losing the Rook on a1? After White goes about the business of pawn grabbing with 9. dxc6, Black unleashes another devastating fork with 9…Bc2+, forking Queen and King. Needless to say it’s all downhill for White after this. We can learn a few valuable lessons regarding forks from this example.

In the above example, we saw the power of piece coordination when employing a fork. White’s mistake was wasting time by bringing his Queen out early and sniping at Black’s pawns. Had White looked more closely at the Black Knight and Black’s light squared Bishop, he wouldn’t have ended up losing so much material early on. Of course, you’ll rarely get to employ two tactical forks back to back but this example demonstrates the power of a well timed and coordinated tactical play. Next week we’ll end our examination of forks and move on to the mighty pin. Here’s a game to enjoy until then!

Hugh Patterson

The Importance of Tactics One

It’s been said that chess is 99% tactics. While this isn’t completely true when it comes to more experienced players, it’s often true when it comes to the games of junior players! More experienced players, both young and old, know how to shut down potential tactical plays attempted by their opponents. If a more experienced player is faced with an opponent who is better at tactical play, they know how to create a closed position that reduces the opposition’s tactical opportunities greatly. However, the beginner often doesn’t has enough experience to follow suit. Many beginners, again both old and young alike, lose games because of a well timed tactical play. This doesn’t mean that this tactical play solely determines the game’s outcome. It does however give the tactician an advantage, one that creates a positional weakness that can fester into a losing game over the long run.

Over the next few articles we’re going to explore a number of basic tactics that the beginning player can employ in their own games. However, it should be noted that, as a beginner, you shouldn’t expect these exact positions to suddenly appear on the board when you play chess. Our examples serve as positional motifs or ideas/concepts rather than exacting positions that you must reach in a specific move order.

We’ll start with the fork. A fork has a completely different meaning within the world of chess as opposed to it’s meaning in the world of culinary arts. A fork in chess leads to a gain of material while a fork in the culinary arts is a utensil you use to either eat with or serve food with! In chess, a fork is one pawn or piece attacking two or more pieces at the same time. Yes, I said pawn because even this seemingly lowly little fellow can engage in tactical forks. Even the King can fork other pieces but not until you reach an endgame position! Everyone in your chess army can fork material which is why the fork is such a powerful tactical weapon!

Perhaps the greatest forking piece is the Knight who, if positioned on a central square, can simultaneously fork or attack up to eight pieces. While the Queen (who travels along ranks, files or diagonals) can also fork up to eight pieces at once , she’s your most powerful piece (in general) which means employing her for tactical duty can be more dangerous that using a Knight! Considering the value of the pieces, it’s better to risk a minor piece for a tactical play than a major piece. You have two Knights but only one Queen! The Knight also has a special power that stops the opposition from blocking a Knight attack or fork and that’s the Knight’s ability to jump over other pieces. This special ability means that you cannot block a Knight when it attacks. This being the case, we’ll concentrate on Knight forks in this first article on tactics.

The Knight is perhaps the most difficult piece for the beginner to master. Remember, the Knight moves in an “L” shape which makes it difficult to follow visually (for the beginner) since the other pieces move in a more linear fashion (straight lines along ranks, files or diagonals). This non-linear pattern of movement can be a bit tricky at first for both the player employing the Knight in a game and the player having to defend against the Knight. However, it’s well worth mastering our horsey friend because of it’s very unique abilities. Let’s take a look at an example of a Knight fork. It’s important for you to keep in mind that forks require being set up. While forks do sometimes present themselves seemingly out of the blue, more often than not, they require being set up. We call this set up a combination. A combination is a series of moves that align opposition pieces on specific squares that allow a tactical play, in this case a fork, to occur. Take a look at the example below:

In the above example, Black makes a move, 1…Qxc3, that the beginner might think is terrible, trading a Queen for a Knight. From a monetary viewpoint (assigning a dollar value to the pawns and pieces rather than relative point values), Black appears to have just traded nine dollars for three dollars. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and say “I’ll give you nine dollars if you give me three dollars back” unless you had a really good reason (insanity doesn’t count)! In our example, White jumps at this seemingly lopsided exchange of material with 2. Qxc3. White is certainly happy to have won a Queen for a minor piece, in this case a Knight! However, this is a “set up” move for Black’s tactical play, 2…Ne2+ which turns out to be a fork. Black is simultaneously attacking the White King and Queen at the same time. Because White must get out of check and the forking Knight can’t be captured nor blocked, the King has to move and the Queen is lost with 3. Kf1…Nxc3. Black has employed a fork and is up a minor piece for his efforts. It’s important to remember that this tactical play, a fork, had to be set up employing a combination of moves. Let’s look at another example:

Our first tactical example was more advanced than the type of forks you find in the games of beginners. I included it because it involved an idea we’ll look at in later articles, the concept of temporarily sacrificing material as part of a tactical play. In our second example, we meet a Knight fork that occurs a great deal in the games of beginners, one that involves the King-side Knight and Bishop. This is a forking pattern you’re likely to see quite a bit as a novice player. Why does this fork appear in many games? Because the target square, f7, is the weakest square on the board at the start of the game (White’s counterpart is f2). The f7 and f2 squares are weak because the square’s only defender is the King at the game’s start. If one piece attacks one of these two squares, such as a lone Bishop capturing the f7 or f2 pawn, the King whose job to protect that square either has to move, because he’s in check, or capture the Bishop. Either way he loses the right to castle. When the Bishop attacks the same square but has a piece protecting it, the King cannot capture the attacking piece. In our example, the Bishop supports or protects the Knight who has captured the f7 pawn so the Black King can’t do a thing about it. The Knight has not only captured the f7 pawn but is forking the Black Queen and Rook. Let’s play it through!

The first two moves, 1. e4…e5 and 2. Nf3…Nc6 are standard opening fare. Both players stake out a claim in the center with their initial pawn moves. White attacks the e5 pawn with his King-side Knight and Black develops the Queen-side Knight to defend it. White plays 3. Bc4, the start of the Italian Game. White also targets the f7 pawn with this Bishop move. Black makes a seemingly good move, 3…Nf6. Black’s last move makes sense since both Knights attack all four of the center squares. Since control of the board’s center is a key opening game principle, Black has little to worry about, right? Wrong! When White plays 4. Ng5 a problem suddenly appears for Black! There are now two attackers aimed at the f7 pawn and only one defender, the King! Black plays 4…Be7, hoping to escape his troubles by castling on the next move. However, it’s too late because White plays 5. Nxf7, winning the pawn and forking both the Black Queen and Rook. Worse, yet, the Black Queen is trapped so she’ll be captured on the next move.

This was a simple introduction to one of the many great tactics you should learn in order to improve your game. We’ll look at other forks in greater detail over the weeks to come but rather than provide you with a game to mull over this week, I’ll give you an exercise to do. Set up a chessboard with the pieces randomly placed about the board. Place them on the board very quickly without thinking about where they’re going. After removing any illegal positions such as a King in check, see if you can find any potential forks, either immediately or by using a combination of moves to achieve. You’ll start to develop an eye for forks. Since you’re playing both sides of the board, make sure to try and stop potential forks as well. You’ll learn a great deal about creating and defending against forks doing this. Get ready for another round of forks next week.

Hugh Patterson

Taking Advantage

We see many beginner games in which our novice player launches an attack only to see it fall apart, often leaving a weak position in its wake. Yet the experienced player will launch an attack and the results will be positive. What’s the difference between attacks? Knowing when to launch an attack by taking advantage of the situation, which is usually a weak opposition position. This means you have to look at your opponent’s position and attack only when you can take advantage of it!

Beginner’s tend to launch two kinds of attacks. The first attack usually involves a couple of pieces working independently of one another. In other words, those pieces are not working as a team. To work as a team, pieces have to support one another or protect one another when launching any attack. We often see early checkmates in the games of junior players that use a Queen and Bishop (Scholar’s Mate) or a Queen and Knight. These mating attacks work because the Bishop or Knight supports (protects) the Queen. The pieces work with one another through coordination. The minor piece protects the Queen which keeps the opponent’s King from capturing the her when the attack is launched. Notice the minor piece supporting the major piece, the Queen. Because the Queen can attack along the ranks, files and diagonals, she is the piece best suited to attacking the opposition King because she can cut off any escape squares

Imagine now, the the Knight or Bishop previously mentioned isn’t positioned to protect the Queen and her majesty goes in for the attack. The opposition King would then capture her and you’d be down your most powerful attacking piece. Piece coordination is therefore critical to any successful attack.

The other beginner’s attack is what I call the kitchen sink attack in which everything is thrown at the opposition King. This sounds great in theory but if our beginner doesn’t have his or her pieces protecting one another (piece coordination), then material will be lost and their position ruined. As a chess teacher, I teach the idea that the more pieces you have attacking the opposition, the better your chances of a successful attack. However, I point out that those pieces must be coordinated, otherwise you’ll lose material. I repeat this point over and over because beginning students will hear “the more pieces you have attacking the opposition King, the faster you’ll checkmate that King,” missing the key point regarding piece coordination. The beginning student will often throw their entire army at the opposition King and watch in horror as their army is captured. So how does the beginner launch a successful attack?

The first idea any beginner should embrace is patience. Junior players tend to be very impatient, only wanting to make moves that do something spectacular, such as capturing a piece or checking the opposition’s King. Beginners want to win and win fast. While beginner’s games tend to be short and fast, when playing other beginners, there will come a time when they’re playing strong players who can easily repel impatient attacks and usually turn the position around in their favor. Patient is a necessary skill all chess players must develop if they want to improve! Being patients means slowing building up your attack rather than launching a slap dash guaranteed to fail fiasco.

Of course, simply being patient isn’t enough to win the game. You have to be doing something while being patient, namely developing your pieces to their most active squares when preparing for your attack. The idea here is that the more material you have on active squares, those around the board’s center during the opening or those that give you attacking lines when preparing to attack your opponent’s King, the more attacking options you have and the fewer defensive choices your opponent has. The player will greater options has greater control of the board and the game!

Active squares in the opening are fairly straight forward. They’re squares that control the board’s center. However, when preparing a middle-game attack on the opposition’s position you have to develop material to specific squares. In the case of a mating attack, those squares will be those nearest the opposition King. However, you often have to do some additional work before attacking the King. Where do you move pawns and pieces then?

During the middle-game, you want to exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s position. Weakness include, doubled and isolated pawns, undefended pieces, pieces trapped on their starting ranks, defenders of squares that, if those pieces weren’t there, would give you an open line (rank, file or diagonal) to the enemy King or weak squares themselves. Of course, beginners will always try to look for tactical plays such as forks, pins, skewers, etc. However, you often are deprived of any immediate tactical plays so you have to look for weaknesses. The key idea here is to take advantage of opposition weaknesses. Often, those weakness create tactical plays.

For example, if your opponent’s pawn structure is plagued with problems such a doubled pawns, isolated pawns and too many pawn islands, your opponent will have to use some of his or her pieces to defend those problem pawns. If you put pressure on those pawns, such as threatening to attack them, your opponent will have to defend them or lose them. I say threat because a threat can be better than simply capturing the material being threatened. The point here is that opposition material becomes tied down when having to defend against attacks on poorly placed pawns and pieces. This means there are fewer opposition pieces able to repel your attack when you launch it because they’re tied down to the defense of their own poorly placed pawns and pieces. Another idea or concept beginners should learn is the notion of removing the defender of a key square. Removing that key defender makes it easier to open attacking and mating lines.

Multiple threats are a benefit from the patient development of your pawns and pieces. If you have multiple threats across the board, your opponent often can only deal with one of those threats leaving you the opportunity to take advantage of the position your opponent has left undefended. Multiple threats also lead to overloaded material, pieces that have to protect multiple pawns and pieces at the same time.

Timing is the key to a good attack. Only attack when the time is right. When is that? When there’s a weakness in your opponent’s position that gives you the opportunity to attack. When you and your opponent make moves, even the the best moves can leave you or your opponent with a weakness, namely the squares you leave behind. In simple terms, a White Knight on f3, controls the g5 and h4 squares so the Black Queen can’t move to these squares without being captured. Let’s say White hasn’t castled his or her King KIng-side and decides to capture an undefended Black pawn on e5 with the f3 Knight. After doing so, White has given up the defense of or left behind two important squares which the Black Queen takes advantage of by, in this case moving to g5. Now White’s Knight is under attack and so is the g2 pawn. While this example brings the Queen out early, something you shouldn’t do, it makes a good point. Black took advantage of a bad move on White’s part, only launching this early attack when the timing was right. Of course, experienced players would never take the pawn in our example, but beginners are know to do such things!

Wait for your opponent to create a weakness in their position before attacking. Even when playing principled chess, there comes a time when you or your opponent will have to make a move that may weaken their position. If you’re paying close attention, you’ll spot it and take advantage of it by either building up an attack or launching into one. Be patient and wait for an opportunity to arise and only then consider an attack after carefully building up your forces. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. You have to love a guy named Pal Benko.

Hugh Patterson

Avoiding Opening Traps

A fellow coach came up to me during a tournament my student’s were playing in recently and said “Hugh, you better watch that team you’re guys are about to face. They specialize in opening traps and win a great deal of their games because of it.” My reply, “I don’t teach my students to use opening traps to win games.” My fellow coach looked at me sadly and said, “well, best of luck to you.” I smiled and walked away. What I didn’t tell him was that while I don’t teach my students to use opening traps to win games, I do teach them how to avoid traps and, when faced with opening traps, how to shut their opponent’s position down so quickly that the opposition will wish they never tried to employ their traps in the first place. Junior chess is overflowing with young players who (due to what I consider to be bad coaching) try to win their games early on, relying heavily on tricks and traps to give them the advantage. Therefore, any junior player will have to know about tricks and traps to avoid getting themselves into real trouble during the opening. Does this mean young players have to employ tricks and traps to survive? Absolutely not.

As I mentioned earlier, opening tricks and traps are a mainstay of junior chess. The level and degree of sophistication of these traps increases with the junior player’s age. Scholar’s Mate, for example, is the first opening trap young players learn. Why not, since it allows you to checkmate your opponent in four moves. I’ve seen countless tournament games won using Scholar’s Mate by the youngest members of the junior tournament circuit. The problem with this four move checkmate is that it requires your opponent to make a specific set of bad moves for it to succeed. If the person you’re playing against spots the potential attack, they can develop their pawns and pieces correctly while pushing the attacking Queen back. Below, we see the mate but also some simple developmental moves can thwart White’s mating attempt. This example brings up an important point.

Setting any opening trick or trap up requires that you make moves that go against sound opening principles. Since the opening phase of the game is a race to see who gains control of the board’s center first, making moves that don’t aim to reach that goal allow your opponent reach his or her goal before you do. Since the opening is the foundation upon which the rest of the game is built, setting up a trap early on can work against you when that trap fails. Setting traps costs time or tempo you cannot afford to lose.

I teach my students how to defend against opening tricks and traps. We approach it from a defensive viewpoint. Teaching this way does a number of important things. First of all, it teaches students to see the warning signs that a trap is being set. With Scholar’s Mate, the warning sign is that the Queen is being brought out early and is aimed towards the weakest square on the board, f7 (f2 for White). Sneakier players will often bring their light squared Bishop out to c4 which also serves as a warning sign since we usually develop our King-side Knight before our King-side Bishop. The point here is that warning signs are given that alert us to the potential trap.

The second point my method introduces is that principled play during the opening, trumps a trick or trap every time. You have to set up the trap which means doing things you shouldn’t do during the opening, such as bringing the Queen out early or moving the same pieces twice with no valid reason for doing so. A great lesson can be learned here about how important it is to not fall behind in development or time. If your opponent has to move the same piece two times while you move two different pieces once, such as two minor pieces towards the board’s center, you’re gaining time while your opponent is losing time.

Lastly, my students see just how fragile opening traps are, especially when they don’t work. Of course, this doesn’t mean my students are forbidden from ever employing a trap. However, if they employ a trap, they know the consequences that arise from doing so.

Knowing a trap is coming is the basis of a good defense because you can prepare for that trap. The Costage Trap is a simple opening trap I’ve described before in previous articles. However, we’ll look at it again because it demonstrates one of those opposition moves that should set the alarm bells ringing in your head when you see the key move.

In the above example, the first two moves for both players are standard fare as far as opening play is concerned. Both players fight for control of the center with a pawn on move one, 1. e4…e5. White plays 2. Nf3, attacking the e5 pawn and black defends with 2…Nc6. White then develops his King-side Bishop with 3. Bc4, which attacks the center and Black’s weak f7 pawn. Now Black makes a move that should warn White that something is amiss, 3…Nd4. This is where the unsuspecting beginner gets into trouble. They see a hanging pawn on e5. The opening principles tell us we should continue with development, such as castling or bringing another minor piece into the game, maybe moving the Queen-side Knight to c3. However the beginner grabs the pawn on e5 with 4. Nxe5 and now Black springs the trap. Remember, these are traps employed by young players so the traps themselves are not very sophisticated. When Black plays 4…Qg5, White is suddenly faced with losing the Knight on e5 or the g2 pawn. Many younger players will try to hang onto the Knight by taking the f7 pawn with 5. Nxf7, forking the Black Queen and King-side Rook. However, Black is playing to win so he simply takes the g2 pawn with 5…Qxg2 and White’s King-side Rook runs to f1 (6. Rf1). White’s days are numbered after Black plays 6…Qxe4+! White thinks “I’ll just block the Queen’s attack on my King by playing 7. Be2 and everything will be alright.” Wrong. Black plays 7…Nf3# and delivers a smothered mate. Castling on move four, 4. 0-0, would have solved the problem early on.

In the above example, the move 3…Nd4 was the indicator that Black was up to something. Knowing this, would have helped White in the above example. There is always a sign, in the form of a suspicious move, that tells us a trap is afoot! Here’s another example of an opening trap, called the fishing pole trap:

Moves one and two for both players are standard at junior level, 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6. White then plays 3. Bb5, signifying the start of The Ruy Lopez opening. Rather than play 3…a6, the standard response to 3. Bb5, Black plays 3…Nf6, attacking White’s e4 pawn. White castles with 4. 0-0, preparing to move the Rook to e1 to attack the Black Knight should it take the e4 pawn. So far, White is making good moves. Black plays 4…Ng4. Remember, there is always a move that tells us a trap may be afoot. However, White sees that there’s no Bishop on c5 to support the Knight’s attack on f2 (White’s weakest square at the start of the game) and continues with 5. h3, attempting to kick the Knight off of the g4 square. Black’s next move should set off a loud alarm bell in White’s head, 5…h6! Why would Black give up his Knight for a pawn? My students would immediately look up the h file and see that trading Knight for pawn would give the Black Rook an open file on which it would be aimed at the White King. White takes the bait with 6. hxg4. Black happily captures back with 6…hxg4 and White is in huge trouble. Never capture pawns and pieces unless it helps your position! White moves his Knight out of trouble with 7. Ne1 and Black plays 7…Qh4! White plays mechanically (something you should avoid) and plays 8. f3, hoping to trade pawns and create an escape square for his King. Black knows not to capture unless it helps his position and simply plays 8…g3 and now checkmate is unavoidable. White plays 9. Nc3 and Black delivers mate with 9. Qh2#.

You should know the basics of opening traps but know them from a defense viewpoint, rather than in terms of a tool you can use to win games. Experienced players will not fall for these traps and usually can turn the tables on the player employing them. Look for the the warning signs, such as unprincipled moves, and you’ll avoid falling victim. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. No cheap tricks and traps from these two players!

Hugh Patterson

Three Strategic Concepts for Beginners

One of the most difficult ideas beginners must understand in order to improve is the concept of strategy. It’s difficult because it’s not as cut and dry as other forms of principled game play. With the opening principles, we know we have a specific goal to accomplish during the first ten to fifteen moves and a relatively easy (well, at least for more seasoned players) way to meet our goal. During the opening, we know that the three key tasks we must undertake to reach our goal of a sound opening game are controlling the board’s center early on with a pawn or two, developing our minor pieces towards the center and castling. We’re even given a list of things we don’t want to do such as making too many pawn moves, moving the same piece twice during the opening (unless absolutely necessary) and bringing our Queen out early. The point here is simple; we have an easy to grasp list of what to do and what not to do. The same holds true with middle-game play; further piece activation, tactics and good exchanges of material, and endgame play (pawn promotion, mating with specific pawn and/or piece combinations). However, the idea of strategy and maintaining a strategic plan throughout the game baffles our intrepid beginner. If you’re a beginner and you find yourself a bit in the dark when it comes to strategy, fret not because this concept alluded me for a long time (due to embarrassment, I won’t tell you how old I was when it finally sunk in, but I did have gray hair at the time). Let’s see if we can’t sort this out and shine a bright light on strategy and strategic thinking. It will help your game greatly.

Three words, actually concepts, can be employed during any phase within a game of chess and those words are material, safety and freedom. While these might be commonplace words to non chess players, they become important strategic ideas or concepts to those wishing to play quality chess. I use these three ideas when I introduce beginners to strategic thinking. However, before we delve into these three key concepts, lets start by defining the word “strategy” and compare it to the definition of “tactics.”

While seasoned players know the difference between strategy and tactics, many beginners don’t understand the difference which is critical to good chess playing. Strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a major or long-term goal. In military terms, strategy is the art of planning and directing the overall operations and movements of an army’s troops. It’s the greater plan used to win the battle. Tactics, on the other hand, are the methods employed or actions used to achieve a specific goal or plan. In a military example, the strategy might be to cut off the enemy’s supply line, forcing them to retreat or starve. However, the way in which you do so, such a as carefully orchestrated attack on the supply line itself, undertaken by special forces late at night when enemy security is at its weakest, is a tactical effort. The strategic plan that meets your goal (taking out the enemy supply line) is executed through a series of tactical efforts.

Now to our three key ideas or concepts, material, safety and freedom. These are ideas to keep in mind throughout the game, meaning they should be considered during the opening, middle and endgame, thus why they’re strategic in nature. These three things help you to maintain strategic goals from start to finish.

Material is just that! When we say material, we’re talking about the pawns and pieces. To see who has the material advantage or the larger army of pawns and pieces, we should always do a pawn and piece count throughout the game. Unlike a real army who might not miss a foot soldier or two, our chess army can be greatly weakened even when we have one or two fewer pawns (foot soldiers) than our opponent.

While experienced players know the relative values of the pawns and pieces and keep a constant tally of just how much material both players have, the beginner often doesn’t understand the idea of the relative value of material. When you can can add up the value of your forces with the ease of an accountant, you’ll always know where you stand, materially speaking!

Our foot soldiers, the pawns, have a relative value of one. The minor pieces, the Knights and Bishops, have a value of three each. The Rooks have a relative value of five, while the Queen has a relative value of nine. The King’s priceless! The value of the pawns and pieces are based on their power. Therefore, the Queen is your most powerful piece and your pawn the least valuable of your material. However, it should be noted that these values are relative which means they can fluctuate depending on their relationship to the position at hand. Pawns, for example, might start off the game with a relative value of one. Yet pawns, upon reaching the opposite side of the board, can promote into a Queen, Rook, Knight or Bishop. Therefore. A pawn one square away from promotion is worth far more than one on its starting square!

You can compare pawns and pieces you’ve captured to those captured by your opponent and know where you stand, materially speaking. You can also add up the value of the pawns and pieces still on the board, both yours and those of your opponent. The bottom line, however, is that you should always know where you stand regarding material because this greatly effects the strategic decisions you make from one move to the next. I say this because strategic thinking and planning can change from move to move depending on what your opponent does. Your strategic thinking or planning should always be flexible because the game can change from one move to the next, meaning plans often have to change and change quickly.

Being able to put a value on the material on and off the board allows you know where you stand in regards to your planning. If you’re down a lot of material, you don’t want to sacrifice your Queen (unless of course it leads to checkmate). Remember though, just because you have more material than your opponent doesn’t mean you’re winning. You have to deliver checkmate to win the game! Having less material means you have to wisely use what you have left in the game. Knowing where you stand from a material viewpoint allows you to employ a smarter strategy, such as not throwing everything you have left at the opponent’s King but trying to use tactics to even the balance of material left in the game! When planning an attack, add up the values of the pawns and pieces being exchanged. The value of the material you capture should be greater than that of your opponent.

Now for safety. Safety really comes down to the position of both your pieces and those of your opponent! The most important piece regarding safety is the King! With your pawns and pieces, not including the King, you might lose some material but the game will continue (at least for a while). However, if you follow a few guidelines, you won’t lose pawns and pieces as easily. Since an attack from which the King cannot escape, checkmate, ends the game immediately, King safety is a crucial task from the game’s start to its finish. Kings who are left in the open are doomed to be checkmated. Therefore, castling is part of our overall game strategy, more specifically when and where to castle. The reason castling is such a fantastic idea is because our King is surrounded by pawns and pieces that keep the opposition from getting within striking distance (when done right).

With some openings, such as The Italian Opening, white has the opportunity to castle on move four. However, should white castle or continue building up forces in or around the board’s center? If the King is safe, castling can be delayed. You just don’t want to delay it until it’s too late. To know whether or not you’re reaching that point, you need to examine the opposition’s pawns and pieces and see if they’re making any threats. Doing this throughout the game has the added bonus of allowing you to see if any of your pawns and pieces are being attacked. All you have to do to determine your material’s safety, is to simply look at each opposition pawn and piece and see if it’s attacking anything of yours either immediately or in another move or two.

If you suddenly realize, after looking at your position, that there’s a great deal of material bearing down on a valuable piece such as the Queen, or worse yet, the King, you need to change your plans (your strategy) and fight off the assault. Of course, if, after every opposition move, you’re looking at each of your opponent’s pawns and pieces to see what threats they’re making, you’ll avoid being in this situation! This situation, being suddenly assaulted, is why you have to have a flexible strategy. A seemingly winning position can change violently against you in a matter of a few moves. Therefore, keep your strategy flexible. Beginners too often have rigid plans base on what they want their opponent to do, not what the opponent actually is doing which is employing their own plans.

Lastly let’s touch upon the concept of Freedom. If you had to spend twenty four hours in either a small box in which you could barely move or a large room with a comfortable couch and lots of room to move, which would you chose? The bigger space. You’re pieces feel the same way. They want and need room to move. There’s a term we use in chess to describe a pawn or piece’s room to move and that term is mobility!

In chess, freedom is mobility and pieces with no mobility might as well not be in the game! For a piece to be active, the key ingredient when it comes to attacking, it must be able to move to an active square and this requires mobility. Beginners tend to move pawns and pieces to awkward squares. By awkward squares, I mean squares, upon which moving a pawn or piece to, block in other pawns and pieces. This creates a traffic jam and, like real life traffic jams on the motorway or freeway, it takes time to extricate yourself from the problem. Time, especially at the start of the game, can work against you in the most vicious of ways. After all, the player who gains control of the board first can not only launch great attacks but keep their opponent from launching any attacks of their own. When considering a move, always check to see of moving a pawn or piece to your target square will hamper the efforts of your other pawns or pieces. Mobile pieces are happy pieces.

So keep these three ideas in mind when creating your game plans and you’ll be playing better chess. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. Boris is a brilliant strategic planner!

Hugh Patterson

Are Databases Important for the Beginner?

There was a time in the not so distant past, when we had to keep track of important games, both our own and the games of others, by carefully copying each move into a paper notebook. If you were serious about improving, you’d often find yourself copying dozens of games into that notebook that were centered around a specific opening you were trying to learn or a tactical idea you were trying to master. This was a daunting task at best. Incorrectly writing down a move from one of those games made the game worthless! Thanks to huge advances in technology, you can now purchase software that gives you immediate access to millions of games with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. You can easily have ten thousand examples of a specific opening or a huge collection of games representing many different openings neatly stored on your computer. You can compare an individual move you might be considering to hundreds of thousands of previously played games to see if that move has any merit. The database is an extremely powerful and useful tool for anyone wishing to improve their game. However, do you really need a database as a beginner and when should you invest in one?

Before investing in a database program, which can be quite costly, you have to determine whether or not it’s really going to help your game, in other words, help you improve. While the database is an essential tool for serious/professional players as well as coaches and instructors, the beginner should understand that a database is not an instructional tool in the way a training DVD or software program is. With a training DVD or software program, actual lessons are being taught aimed at helping you learn the topic at hand. For example, a DVD on how to play the Ruy Lopez is just that. The DVD teaches you how to play this opening and is written and presented by an individual who has expertise with the Ruy Lopez. A database, on the other hand, might have a collection of ten thousand games featuring the Ruy Lopez opening, which is far greater than the number of example games featured in the DVD. However, there’s no instruction within the database so you just have the games themselves with perhaps a little annotation that is far above the beginner’s comprehension level. Therefore, the database expects you to already know the opening, or at least a bit of it’s mainline and variations. If you’re new to chess and don’t fully understand the opening principles, for example, you’ll quickly become lost and frustrated trying to figure out what’s going on within the database’s games. A database may show the opening principles in action but it doesn’t teach them.

Now, this isn’t to say that beginner’s can’t benefit from a database, but the beginner is better off spending their hard earned money on instructional material and, once they’ve improved, acquire a database program. I rely on my database program for teaching and coaching for very obvious reasons. I give at least ten chess lectures per week. I give roughly four hundred lectures per year (I work year round). Since I rarely show the same game twice during an academic year, I need to have easy access to a large number of games. All I have to do is consult my trusty database to find the games I use. The other advantage to databases, such as ChessBase 14 which I rely upon, is that it allows me to compare lines from a plethora of other games to the game I’m presenting to my students. For a teacher or coach, it’s an indispensable teaching tool. It should be noted that in order to get the most out of a database such as the one I use, you have to do a lot of reading and tinkering with the database. The user manual for ChessBase 14 is 487 pages long and you have to read quite a bit of the manual to get the most out of the software program. This alone, is too much for the beginner to deal with. Is there a happy medium for our intrepid beginner regarding the database? There sure is!

Cost is very prohibitive for many of us who love the game. I can write all chess related chess equipment off on my taxes. However, if you’re not teaching chess for a living and don’t have a good accountant, spending three or four hundred dollars on software can take food off the tables of many of my fellow chess players. Would you be happy if I told you you could either download a free database program or spend roughly twenty to fourty American dollars on an all in one chess program? I’d be happy!

Let’s look at the free database program first. It’s called ChessDB and can be found here: http://chessdb.sourceforge.net/ This is the homepage, so read the page and follow the instructions for downloading, which is a link button in the upper right hand corner of the page. The Beta version with the endgame tables is only 36 megabytes in size so it won’t put a strain on your computer’s available memory.

ChessDB is a great little database program because not only is it free, but it comes with a small database of 27, 681 games. I say small because my latest database has over 6,800,000 games. However, the beginner doesn’t really need six million games to have a decent database (I don’t even need that many games). Beginner’s just need games that they use for a reference for their own studies. If you want to add a larger database of games, you can add an additional 3.5 million games (see the ChessDB website for more on this) The only real downside to this program is that you’ll have to do a bit of studying to learn how to navigate the program and take advantage of its many features. However, you’d have to do that with any database and the good news is that you don’t have to pay any money for this program.

If you’re willing to pay around twenty to fourty American dollars for a program that not only has a large database (600,000 plus games), but a built in playing program and roughly one hundred hours of training and instructional material, try Chessmaster’s Grandmaster Edition or Chessmaster 10th Edition (both are essentially the same with the Grandmaster Edition having one additional section, Josh Waitzkin analyzing a series of games). This is an excellent program for the beginner wishing to not only improve but to have access to a decent database. I highly recommend this program to all my beginning students. It’s a great all in one program. Seldom do you find all in one programs that are great all around programs since most of these tend to be be weak in one area or another. While this is not the best program for more experienced players, it’s first rate for those new to the game. You can’t beat the price either! While not free, it’s close to it considering the fact that a beginner will be able to get a great deal of training in a single software package. Note, you’ll have to do a bit of searching online to find it for the price listed above because, original versions of this program, brand new, in the box and unsealed can sell for as high as three hundred American dollars. Just search around and you’ll find one for a decent price. The company that put out the game no longer makes it so you’ll have to buy it used or find a new copy someone has lying around in their closet. However, the search is well worth it. You can find free demo downloads (do not download full versions online because it’s internet piracy which is illegal) online to try it out. However, always exercise caution when downloading any program onto your computer (which is why I will not provide a downloading source. That risk is yours and yours alone).

So there you have it, a few ideas on acquiring a database should you feel the need for one. As a beginner, don’t worry about having a fancy database even if all your chess playing friends have one. It’s better to invest your money into training materials because, after all, if you really improve your game and beat your friend who’s always bragging about their fancy database program, you’ll have the last laugh. You might find yourself thinking, after beating your friend, “I guess those six million games didn’t do as much for you as my wise investment in my own training.” However, if you want to delve into the world of databases, try one of the above suggestions. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. These guys are old school. They had to write down thousands of games into their notebooks which just goes to show you that technology doesn’t necessarily mean you have the advantage on the chessboard or off the chessboard in life!

Hugh Patterson